Thomas Newcomen

imageEnglish inventor Thomas Newcomen was born 24 February 1664 in Dartmouth, Devon. He is credited with creating the first practical steam engine for pumping water, the Newcomen steam engine. At the time Devon was noted for its tin mines, where flooding was a major problem, limiting the depth at which the mineral could be mined. Newcomen’s great achievement was his steam engine, developed around 1712, combining the ideas of Thomas Savery and Denis Papin. It is likely that Newcomen was already acquainted with Savery, whose forebears were merchants in south Devon. Savery also had a post with the Commissioners for Sick and Hurt Seamen, which took him to Dartmouth. Savery had devised a ‘fire engine’, a kind of thermic syphon, in which steam was admitted to an empty container and then condensed. The vacuum thus created was used to suck water from the sump at the bottom of the mine. The ‘fire engine’ was not very effective and could not work beyond a limited depth of around thirty feet.Newcomen replaced the receiving vessel (where the steam was condensed) with a cylinder containing a piston. Instead of the vacuum drawing in water, it drew down the piston. This was used to work a beam engine, in which a large wooden beam rocked upon a centralfulcrum. On the other side of the beam was a chain attached to a pump at the base of the mine. As the steam cylinder was refilled with steam, readying it for the next power stroke, water was drawn into the pump cylinder and expelled into a pipe to the surface by the weight of the machinery. Newcomen and his partner John Calley built one of the first engines at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley in the West Midlands. A working replica of this engine can be seen at the Black Country Living Museum nearby.

imageThe Newcomen engine held its place without material change for about three-quarters of a century, spreading gradually to more and more areas of the UK and to mainland Europe. At first brass cylinders had been used but these were expensive and limited in size. New iron casting techniques pioneered by the Coalbrookdale Company in the 1720s allowed bigger and bigger cylinders to be used, up to about 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter by the 1760s, and experience gradually led to better construction and minor refinements in layout. Its mechanical details were much improved by John Smeaton, who built many large engines of this type in the early 1770s; his improvements were rapidly adopted. By 1775 about 600 Newcomen engines had been built, although many of these had worn out before then, and been abandoned or replaced. The Newcomen Engine was rather inefficient by today’s standards, but was probably as complicated as engineering and materials techniques of the early eighteenth century could support. Much heat was lost when condensing the steam, as this cooled the cylinder. This did not matter unduly at a colliery, where unsaleable small coal (slack) was available, but significantly increased the mining costs where coal was not readily available, as in Cornwall. Therefore, Newcomen’s engine was gradually replaced after 1775 in areas where coal was expensive (especially in Cornwall) by an improved design, invented by James Watt, in which the steam was condensed in a separate condenser.

The Watt steam engine, aided by better engineering techniques including Wilkinson’s boring machine, was much more fuel efficient, enabling Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton to collect substantial royalties based on the fuel saved.Watt subsequently made other improvements, including the double-acting engine, where both the up and down strokes were power strokes. These were especially suitable for driving textile mills, and many Watt engines were employed in these industries. At first attempts to drive machinery by Newcomen engines had mixed success, as the single power stroke produced a jerky motion, but use of flywheels and better engineering largely overcame these problems. By 1800, hundreds of non-Watt rotary engines had been built, especially in collieries and ironworks where irregular motion was not a problem but also in textile mills. Despite Watt’s improvements, Common Engines (as they were then known) remained in use for a considerable time, and many more Newcomen engines than Watt ones were built even during the period of Watt’s patent (up to 1800), as they were cheaper and less complicated: of over 2,200 engines built in the eighteenth century, only about 450 were Watt engines. Elements of Watt’s design, especially the Separate Condenser, were incorporated in many “pirate” engines. Even after 1800 Newcomen type engines continued to be built and condensers were added routinely to these. They were also commonly retro-fitted to existing Newcomen engines (the so-called “pickle-pot” condenser).

There are examples of Newcomen engines in the Science Museum (London) and the Ford Museum, Dearborn amongst other places. Perhaps the last Newcomen-style engine to be used commercially – and the last still remaining on its original site – is at the Elsecar Heritage Centre, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. The only Newcomen engines that can be shown working are believed to be the Newcomen Memorial Engine at Dartmouth and the replica engine at the Black Country Museum in Dudley, West Midlands. Comparatively little is known of Newcomen’s later life. In his later life (at least), the engine affairs were conducted through an unincorporated company, the ‘Proprietors of the Invention for Raising Water by Fire’. Its secretary and treasurer was John Meres, clerk to the Society of Apothecaries in London. That society formed a company which had a monopoly on supplying medicines to the Navy providing a close link with Savery, whose will he witnessed. The Committee of the Proprietors also included Edward Wallin, a Baptist of Swedish descent; and pastor of a church at Maze Pond, Southwark. Newcomen died at his house 5 August 1729, and his body was buried atBunhill Fields, a cemetery in north London; the exact location of his grave is now not known.By the time of his death, about 75 of his engines, operating under Savery’s patent (extended by statute so that it did not expire until 1733), had been installed by Newcomen and others in most of the important mining districts of Britain: draining coal mines in the Black Country, Warwickshire and near Newcastle upon Tyne; at tin and copper mines in Cornwall; and in lead mines in Flintshire andDerbyshire, amongst other places

Wilhelm Grimm

GrimmsBest Known for writing Grimm’s Fairy Tales, German philologist and folklorist Wilhelm Grimm was born 24th February 1786. He was the younger brother of Jakob. Grimm’s Fairy Tales (German: Grimms Märchen) was first published in 1812 and The first volume contained 86 stories; the second volume of 70 stories followed in 1814. For the second edition, two volumes were issued in 1819 and a third in 1822, totalling 170 tales. The third edition appeared in 1837; fourth edition, 1840; fifth edition, 1843; sixth edition, 1850; seventh edition, 1857. Stories were added, and also subtracted, from one edition to the next, until the seventh held 211 tales. All editions were extensively illustrated, first by Philipp Grot Johann and, after his death in 1892, by Robert Leinweber. The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel (shown in original Grimm stories as Hansel and Grethel) to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. They removed sexual references—such as Rapunzel’s innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naïvely revealing her pregnancy and the prince’s visits to her stepmother—but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased.

The influence of these books was widespread. W. H. Auden praised the collection, during World War II, as one of the founding works of Western culture. The tales themselves have been put to many uses. The Nazis praised them as folkish tales showing children with sound racial instincts seeking racially pure marriage partners, and so strongly that the Allied forces warned against them; for instance, Cinderella with the heroine as racially pure, the stepmother as an alien, and the prince with an unspoiled instinct being able to distinguish. Writers who have written about the Holocaust have combined the tales with their memoirs, as Jane Yolen in her Briar Rose.The work of the Brothers Grimm influenced other collectors, both inspiring them to collect tales and leading them to similarly believe, in a spirit of romantic nationalism, that the fairy tales of a country were particularly representative of it, to the neglect of cross-cultural influence. Among those influenced were the Russian Alexander Afanasyev, the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, the English Joseph Jacobs, and Jeremiah Curtin, an American who collected Irish tales.There was not always a pleased reaction to their collection. Joseph Jacobs was in part inspired by his complaint that English children did not read English fairy tales; in his own words, “What Perrault began, the Grimms completed”. Three individual works of Wilhelm Grimm include Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen (‘Old Danish Heroic Lays, Ballads, and Folktales’) in 1811, Über deutsche Runen (‘On German Runes’) in 1821, and Die deutsche Heldensage (‘The German Heroic Legend’) in 1829. Sadly Wilhelm Grimm, passed away on 16th December 1859.

Among the best known of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are: Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, The Riddle, Mother Hulda, The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich, Cat and Mouse in Partnership, Mary’s Child, The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, Trusty John or Faithful John, The Good Bargain, The Wonderful Musician or The Strange Musician,The Twelve Brothers, The Pack of Ragamuffins, The Three Little Men in the Wood, The Three Snake-Leaves, The Fisherman and His Wife, The Seven Ravens, Clever Elsie, The White Snake, The Valiant Little Tailor, The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage, Town Musicians of Bremen, The Singing Bone, The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs, The Louse and the Flea ,Thumbling (Tom Thumb), Thumbling’s Travels and The Elves and the Shoemaker. Many of these stories have also been turned into films too.

Alain Prost

French racing driver Alain Prost, OBE, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, who was born 24th February 1955 in Lorette, Loire. He is A highly successful four-time Formula One Drivers’ Champion, Having won the World Championship in 1985; 1986; 1989 & 1993 Prost has won more titles than any driver except for Juan Manuel Fangio (five championships), and Michael Schumacher (seven championships). From 1987 until 2001 Prost held the record for most Grand Prix victories. Schumacher surpassed Prost’s total of 51 victories at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix. In 1999, Prost received the World Sports Awards of the Century in the motor sport category.

Prost discovered karting at the age of 14 during a family holiday. He progressed through motor sport’s junior ranks, winning the French and European Formula Three championships, before joining the McLaren Formula One team in 1980 at the age of 25. He finished in the points on his Formula One début in Argentina and took his first race victory at his home Grand Prix in France a year later, while he was driving for the factory Renault team.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Prost formed a fierce rivalry with mainly Ayrton Senna, but also Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. In 1986, at the last race of the season, he managed to pip Mansell and Piquet of Williams to the title after Mansell retired late on in the race, and Piquet was pulled in for a late precautionary pit stop. Senna joined Prost at McLaren in 1988 and the two had a series of controversial clashes, including a collision at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix that gave Prost his third Drivers’ Championship. A year later at the same venue they collided again, but this time Prost, driving for Ferrari, lost out. Before the end of a winless 1991 season Prost was fired by Ferrari for his public criticism of the team. After a sabbatical in 1992, Prost joined the Williams team, prompting reigning drivers’ champion Mansell to leave for CART. With a competitive car, Prost won the 1993 championship and retired from driving at the end of the year.

In 1997, Prost took over the French Ligier team, running it as Prost Grand Prix until it went bankrupt in 2002. He currently competes in the Andros Trophy, which is an ice racing championship.Prost employed a smooth, relaxed style behind the wheel, deliberately modeling himself on personal heroes like Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark. He was nicknamed “The Professor” for his intellectual approach to competition. Skilled at setting up his car for race conditions, Prost would often conserve his brakes and tyres early on in a race, leaving them fresher for a challenge at the end.